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First-and-Ten: Cowboys @ Redskins

October 28, 2017
It’s the Redskins and Cowboys for the first of two regular season meetings in just over a month. Sunday afternoon at 4:25, we will begin to find out what kind of DNA this version of the Redskins have.

Will they fold like a cheap suit because they have 17 players on their injury list, and are now missing their starting nose tackle (Phil Taylor), best defensive lineman and first round pick (Jonathan Allen), starting inside linebacker (Mason Foster) and may be without half of their starting offensive line (Spencer Long has been ruled out and Trent Williams, reportedly, will not play). 

Or will they get the ol’ moral victory and lose a heartbreaker because they play well enough to give themselves chance after chance to win, but ultimately lose?

Or will they do the least likely of three choices. Win? 

We invite you to check out “Inside the Numbers” for all sorts of great information, numbers and statistics that will make you a lot smarter, but for now, let’s go under the microscope for “First-and-Ten.”

First..

Our “Monumental Matchup” focuses on the Redskins ability or inability to control Ezekiel Elliott as both a runner and perhaps just as important, a pass catcher.

Last year, as a rusher, in two games, Elliott ran for 83 yards on 21 attempts and a touchdown at FedExField and 97 yards on 20 attempts with two scores on Thanksgiving in Arlington against Washington. That’s  (41 – 180 – 4.39, 3 TD) on the totals and average.

Elliott had four total catches for only 27 yards as a receiver against the Redskins, so for the most part, they did a pretty darn good job against him.

The problem? The focus on Elliott and the extra attention you have to pay to him hurts you elsewhere. It could be Dak Prescott or Jason Whitten or Dez Bryant or Cole Beasley. It could be a number of guys that hurt you, when you think you have all the answers.

That always seems to happen to the Redskins, just like it did last year in the two losses to Dallas and certainly as it did last Monday night in Philadelphia.

After a mostly sluggish start, Elliott has now racked up 263 yards in the last two games on the ground. That’s on 55 attempts against San Francisco, a team that did a pretty good job of stopping the Redskins running attack and against Green Bay. That’s 4.7 yards per attempt in the last two weeks.

Before that, in the Cowboys first four games, Elliott was (76 – 277, 3.64, 2 TD). So either something major has changed or “Zeke’ could be just playing more mentally free after all of his disciplinary issues.

Last week, in San Francisco, Elliott also chipped in a 72-yard touchdown catch-and-run and now has 18 receptions for 206 yards and two scores on the year.

Last year, in 15 games, Elliott had 32 receptions for 363 yards and his only touchdown was an 83 yards blast from out of nowhere in Pittsburgh.

Bottom line? Even though it will hurt them elsewhere – the Redskins must first control Elliott and take their chances everywhere else.

And Ten…

1 – Last year, the Redskins defense allowed (76-612, 4 TD) to running backs used as receivers, per ProFootballReference.com (PFR). This year, they’ve allowed 38 receptions for 280 yards and three scores.

2 – This year, as a run defense, the Redskins are allowing 94.5 yards per game, which is up from 88.0 before last week and 3.97 rushing yards per attempt, which is better than it already was last week at 4.00 per attempt. Clearly, they will be tested and tested and tested in both disciplines.

3 – The Redskins continue to struggle defending elusive quarterbacks. That’s not a surprise. They always have. No matter who the defensive coordinator is. No matter who is on the roster.This year, after another poor performance against Carson Wentz, the Redskins have allowed 145 rushing yards to quarterbacks on 25 rushing plays. That’s 5.8 yards per attempt.

They’ve allowed the second most rushing yards to quarterbacks in the NFL, only behind New England, which has allowed 157 yards but on 30 attempts and in seven games as opposed to six. The Pats are allowing 5.23 yards per attempt to quarterbacks.

4 – Elusive quarterbacks like Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson are the next two challenges for Washington. Last year, Prescott ran for (57 – 282, 4.9, 6 TD). This year, Prescott has rushed for  (20-152, 7.6, 3 TD). Looking ahead to next week in Seattle, Wilson already has 164 yards rushing and is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. YIKES.

5 – The Cowboys no longer strike fear necessarily by stretching the field. Obviously, a cover bust can still happen and I would fully expect the Cowboys to take some deeper shots on posts and high crossers against the safeties of the Redskins, who struggled big time in coverage last week, specifically D.J. Swearinger.

While fear might not be a word used, they can still chip away and get critical move-the-chains type catches from Dez Bryant (28-327-4), Cole Beasley (16-133-2), Terrence Williams (19 – 180), Brice Butler (8 – 207 – 2) and of course, Jason Witten (31 – 283 – 3) and as we explained above, Elliott.

6 – The Cowboys have five pass catchers with 15 or more receptions, but clearly lack a dynamic over-the top presence. Who does that sound like? The Redskins, right?

The Redskins have six pass catchers with 15 or more receptions (Reed, Thompson, Crowder, Pryor, Grant, Davis) but in addition to lacking the home-run hitter over the top of a defense, they lack anything close to a stud at running back, outside of Thompson.

If you count Thompson more as a receiver than a running back, you are left with this reality. The Redskins offense struggles because their offensive line generally does not get a good enough push on predictable run downs and in short yardage, along with the complete lack of any good option to carry the football on a regular basis.

7 – To win this game, the Redskins are going to need to do something special on the ground. Perhaps they can try to go back to a delay-draw type of run (Chris Thompson) that they busted out against an aggressive pass rush against Los Angeles.

Or you know – it would help if they got anything out of their two main running backs, Robert Kelley (36 – 147, 4.1) or Samaje Perine (55 – 166, 3.0).

The Redskins continue to tinker with incorporating the jet-sweep element into their run offense, as we wrote about after the San Francisco win. They used it one time by memory, against Philadelphia. Perhaps they are setting up a traditional end-around or double reverse, or maybe a handoff-throwback to Cousins from the running back as a different look? The Redskins have to be different. They have to show something different. 



The problem is this: With so many starting offensive linemen out and so many new guys in, it's hard to do any fancy stuff with limited practice time. The Redskins signed veteran offensive tackle, Orlando Franklin and re-signed Arie Kouandjio, who was with the team the last couple of years and was released before the season. 

8 – It’s been a tough go for Terrelle Pryor, who seems deeply introspective and took to social media this week to apologize for his lack of production.

Look, dude, you don’t have to apologize for anything. All you have to do is catch the ball. Per FoxSports.com, he has three drops on the year. Drop stats are really in the eye of the beholder, because Pryor is probably at five or six, depending on who is doing the grading.

18 catches, 223 yards and a score is nowhere near good enough. Neither is 19 catches for 149 yards (Jamison Crowder) or Josh Doctson’s 7 catches for 129 yards and two scores.The Redskins need a lot more from this group.

Third down offense will obviously be huge for Washington as well. They are slightly above average at 39.47% but will need to be at least 45% to even have a legitimate chance at scoring points and just as important, keeping the Cowboys offense off the field. The Cowboys defense has been poor on third-downs this year, coming in at 44.87%, which somehow only ranks them as only # 26 in the NFL. Still, a golden opportunity considering the fact that they struggle to stop the run, too. 

9 – Washington also will have a very long day if they can’t run and must/choose to throw 35 – 40 times, on what is expected to be a sloppy field because of rain throughout the day. Oh and their offensive line is shredded because of injury while the Cowboys have a few terrific pass rushers, like Demarcus Lawrence, who is second in the NFL with 9.5 sacks in one less game (6) than league leader Calais Campbell has (10.0/7 games). David Irving has three sacks in two games since his return from a four-game ban. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins has 2.5 sacks and Tyrone Crawford has 3.0.

The Cowboys, as a whole, have 21.0 sacks and the Redskins have yielded 12.0.

10 – Special teams will be a factor as always. Jamison Crowder has already lost two fumbles on punts and should have lost a third on Monday night in Philadelphia. Just cannot keep happening. Never mind, his disappointing 5.8 yards per punt return. If Crowder muffs another, Jay Gruden and Ben Kotwica will have no choice but to put someone else back there.

The Redskins simply have no margin for error. None. Nick Rose, the Redskins new placekicker was fine last week in Philly, connecting on an opening drive field goal. Rose also was (3-3) on extra point attempts and had three touchbacks on five kickoff attempts.

The Cowboys are actually in a tough spot, like the Redskins are and were. Their stud placekicker, Dan Bailey, who has hurt the Redskins in the past, is out. He was (7-7) on field goals and (16-16) on extra point attempts. Dallas signed Mike Nugent to replace him. The 12-year veteran should be fine, but he lost a training camp battle with the Giants and has been mostly reliable in his career.

Chris Russell has covered the Washington Redskins for eight seasons for multiple media outlets and was a part of the Redskins Radio Network broadcast team for five years. He covers the Redskins, Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade for Monumental Sports Network (www.DCHotRead.com).  Listen to Chris on Washington D.C.'s # 1 sports radio station, 106.7 The FAN     


 

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